BANK accounts of three people in the North-East were used to help launder money made by a criminal gang who targeted vulnerable elderly householders in the South-East.

Bogus builders operating in Kent and the London area charged retired residents, in their 70s and 80s, exorbitant sums for unnecessary or poor-quality work on their homes.

Durham Crown Court heard the victims, one of whom has since died, were left distressed and heavily out of pocket by the activities of the aggressive fraudsters, who at one point posed as police fraud squad detectives.

Paul Newcombe, prosecuting, said one pensioner, who was duped out of almost £30,000, initially paid by cash, but then by bank transfer to accounts of defendants in the North-East.

An elderly woman paid £4,800 and £9.800 into one of the accounts but never had any work completed.

McCauley Cooper, Carrie Cassie and Alison Mackel each admitted a single money laundering charge, offences committed in late 2017.

Mr Newcombe said Cooper, 25, of previous good character, received £14,600 and transferred it out almost immediately.

But he did not receive anything later in the scam as Mr Newcombe said: “It may have been that his bank became suspicious.”

Cassie, 37, received £4,000 on November 2, 2017, and within a day transferred it out, while Mackel, 27, received £4,000, on October 27, and dishonestly transferred £1,500, conceding that it crossed her mind as she did so that it may have been the proceeds of dishonesty.

Cooper denied knowing about the money coming from criminal conduct, saying “a friend” asked to pay money into his account, which he did, withdrawing it and giving it to that person, in return for £500.

He said he only realised the transaction was dishonest when the account was closed by the bank.

Cassie said an acquaintance asked if Cooper could transfer money into her account as a family loan.

Mr Newcombe said she conceded it was more than she expected, making her think it could be “dodgy”, and received “a few hundred pounds for her efforts.”

Mackel transferred £1,500 but paid the money back, borrowing money from her mother.

Amrit Jandoo, for Cooper, of Frederick Drive, Howden-le-Wear, said he was “shocked” to discover where the money came from and “thoroughly appalled” at the impact on the victims.

Mr Jandoo said Cooper’s involvement was, “born out of foolishness, naivety and immaturity” and should have realised the source of the money was, “completely dishonest.”

Describing it as, “a one-off offence”, Mr Jandoo said Cooper accrued a drug debt in the past which is how he became involved, wanting to, “impress those in the gang”, but has since ceased his drug habit.

Lewis Kerr, for mother-of-two Cassie, of Front Street, Pelton, told the court she previously had problems with drugs and she saw this as an “opportunistic” chance to make some, “easy money”.

“She wasn’t under significant pressure of violence or anything like that.”

John Crawford, for Mackel, of Anthony Road, Sunderland, said she was “naïve” and unaware at the outset that the money was from a criminal enterprise, but she received threatening messages saying it must be withdrawn in cash and her subsequent transfer of the money was the offence.

But in due course the “entirety of the money” was quickly repaid to the victims as the threats made her realise the nature of the enterprise.

Judge James Adkin said the money was made by a “ruthless criminal gang” and those who help to launder it encourage and enable such fraudsters to proper.

He imposed a 15-month sentence on Cooper, as he was closest to the criminals.

Cassie was sentenced to nine months, suspended for two years, with a five-month 7pm to 7am home curfew, plus 30 rehabilitation activity days working with the probation service.

Judge Adams said she was spared an immediate prison sentence only because of the impact it would have on her two children.

Mackel, who swiftly repaid the money, was given a two-month community order during which she will be subject to a 7pm to 7am home curfew.